Visit San Antonio: Government Relations, February 2021
The month of February began with the hyper-partisan impeachment trial. While this historic event was playing out, negotiations on the next coronavirus relief bill continue, with a looming deadline ahead and many programs slated to expire next month. The U.S. House of Representatives is working through a few remaining procedural steps and is expected to vote any day now. The legislation largely has support of House Democrats and the Senate is set to pass the bill by March 14 or earlier.
The U.S. Travel Association has developed a Travel Industry Relief Resources webpage for how to access relief provided by the COVID-19 Relief Bill passed in December. Information will be updated regularly, so be sure to bookmark the page and check back often. In addition, U.S. Travel has a new Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program fact sheet to provide more details on what relief is available and how to access benefits. You can also find fact sheets pertaining to the Paycheck Protection Program, Employee Retention Tax Credit, Shuttered Venue Operator Grants, Small Business Administration (SB) Express Loans and more. U.S. Travel also has also provided The FAQ, which is updated regularly as well.
Last week, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada), Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) introduced a bipartisan bill, The Sustaining Tourism Enterprises During the COVID–19 Pandemic (STEP) Act, which would modify existing EDA grant programs to provide direct support for the travel industry to promote economic recovery and help increase public confidence as these industries look to reopen safely in the future.
The Visit San Antonio Government Affairs Team will remain engaged with advocating for federal assistance for the travel and tourism industry. We continue to make the case of the importance of our industry to the national, state and local economies as we work with our federal delegation, the U.S. Travel Association and other travel partners and stakeholders to secure federal relief and funding for all of the struggling businesses in our region.
87th Regular State Legislative Session Update
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan recently announced committee assignments for the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. Here are weblinks with the House Committee and Senate Committee assignments.
There was much interest in how the newly elected Speaker Phelan would share power in the House of Representatives. Overall, Speaker Phelan named 21 Republicans and 13 Democrats chairs of standing committees. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, retains his position as speaker pro- tempore, the primary officer who is responsible for presiding over floor sessions when the speaker is absent. Under the emergency rules adopted in the House, should the Speaker and Speaker Pro-tem be unavailable for any reason, the Chair of State Affairs, Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) may convene and preside over the House. Of the 34 standing committees, only six retained their current chair. Fourteen returning chairs have been moved to new committees and 14 committees will have new chairs at the helm. Thirteen chairs and 21 vice-chairs are women and/or minorities and 11 chairs and vice-chairs are from rural parts of the state; urban areas have 24 chairs and 27 vice chairs. House Democrats, who played a key role in helping Phelan becoming Speaker, fared well, taking the top spots on 13 committees, one more than the 12 chairmanships held under former Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
To date, 3,097 bills and joint resolutions have been filed between the House and Senate. House bills are being referred to their jurisdictional committees. Members had been told they need to have any bills submitted to Legislative Council for drafting by Feb. 18 in order to get them back by March 12 – the bill filing deadline in the House.
On Feb. 5, a couple of weeks after the Texas House and Senate filed their baseline budgets, Gov. Abbott released his version of the state budget, which, while largely symbolic, reflects the Executive Branch’s spending priorities for the session. Passing a balanced budget is one of the Legislature’s constitutional obligations and lawmakers will face challenges building on the progress made in public school finance, property tax reform, disaster preparedness, school safety and numerous other achievements of previous legislatures. Abbott stated that he believes the state will adopt a balanced budget without raising taxes.
February Winter Storm
Like millions of rate payers, many local restaurants and hotels were closed due to power outages. Many residents checked into local hotels only to find that they, too, had a loss of water and power. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the flow of electric power to 26 million Texas customers, which represents approximately 90 percent of the state’s electric load. As the independent system operator for the region, ERCOT schedules power on an electric grid that connects more than 46,500 miles of transmission lines and more than 680 generation units. ERCOT is a membership-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, governed by a board of directors and subject to oversight by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas State Legislature. Its members include consumers, cooperatives, generators, power marketers, retail electric providers, investor-owned electric utilities, transmission and distribution providers and municipally owned electric utilities. An ERCOT Fact Sheet provides some interesting general information about the Texas power grid.
ERCOT has come under scrutiny after the massive winter storm caused millions of residents to lose power for long spans of time during below freezing temperatures. During the frigid weather, which brought massive demand for electricity, ERCOT officials reported 185 power generating units tripped offline, with some failing multiple times. The loss came from multiple sources of power – including natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear. ERCOT reported approximately 2.8 million customers were offline.
The Governor declared reforming ERCOT an emergency item for the 2021 legislative session and later said he thinks leadership at the entity should resign. Abbott earmarking the issue as a top priority for the Legislature allows state lawmakers to take up legislation related to it during the first 60 days of the session, which began Jan. 12.
On Feb. 25, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee held a hearing to examine extreme weather condition preparedness and circumstances that led to the power outages as directed by ERCOT. The committee will also review generator preparedness and performance, utility outage practices, natural gas supply and the reliability of renewable generation, as well as overall ERCOT system resilience.
Also on Feb. 25, the House Committees on State Affairs and Energy Resources held a joint public hearing to consider the factors that led to statewide electrical blackouts during the recent unprecedented weather event, the response by industry suppliers and grid operators and changes necessary to avoid future power interruptions. The committee only heard invited testimony on the statewide electrical blackouts-contributing factors and response.
With the near collapse of the electric power grid, the City Council and Bexar County Commissioner’s Court worked with the state to bring relief from the cold weather. County Judge Nelson Wolff and Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued a “Joint Winter Weather Emergency Declaration“ to help protect against price gouging due to the winter storm.
On Feb. 17, City Council held a “B” Session regarding the power and water outages due to the extreme cold weather conditions in San Antonio. At the council briefing, CPS Energy and San Antonio Water System provided an update on the status of the local power grid and water system. All three entities will be working together in the coming weeks to determine who this crisis happened and how to prevent them in the future.
The loss of power impacted the ability of the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) to pump water to residential and commercial customers. On Feb. 22, Nirenberg announced a city SAWS’ Community Pipe Repair Fund to help residential customers. Information about this program and applications for participation are located at the provided hyperlink.
With no new or amended Executive Orders from the Governor, the current state Executive Order in place is GA-32. On Dec. 28, Judge Wolff issued Executive Order NW-19. This new order lowered the business occupancy limit from 75% down to 50%. This reduction is permissible and outlined in Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32 due to San Antonio’s Trauma Service Area “P” having seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of total hospital capacity was higher than 15%. The order cited significant increase in the rate of (COVID-19) infections as the reasoning behind the new restrictions. The City of San Antonio has not issued any new or amended Emergency Orders.
On Feb. 19, the city issued a Press Release stating that with the with the decrease in Bexar County’s Covid-19 positivity rates, certain business operations may now increase occupancy to 75%. Additional information can be found in the hyperlinked press release.
San Antonio Local Elections
The General City Election, Special Election and Charter Election will be held on Saturday, May 1, and any run-off election will be held on Saturday, June 5. Polling locations may vary from election to election and will be posted on the Bexar County Elections Department homepage. As the voting locations are made available by Bexar County, Visit San Antonio will provide that information in future updates.
The 2021 General Election key dates:
- April 1 – Last day to register to vote with Bexar County.
- April 19 – First day to cast an early vote in person.
- April 27 – Last day to cast an early vote in person.
- May 1 – Election Day (7 a.m.–7 p.m.)
Candidates for the coming May election are listed below:
|Frank Adam Muniz||4|
|Antonio “Tony” Diaz||5|
|Michael “Commander” Idrogo||7|
|John M. Velasquez||8|
|Joshua James Galvan||13|
|Roberto C. Trevino||2|
|Lauro A. Bustamante||4|
|Matthew J. Gauna||6|
|Nneka “Miss Neka” Cleaver||1|
|Walter Perry, Sr.||2|
|Michael John Good||6|
|Norris Tyrone Darden||7|
|Andrew Fernandez Vicencio||10|
|Rodolfo “Rudy” Lopez||1|
|Mark Arthur Vargas, Jr.||2|
|Rafael C. Vela||3|
|Katherine Herrera Garza||7|
|Stephen “Steve” Valdez||10|
|Diana Flores Uriegas||12|
|Irma G. Barron||4|
|Norberto “Geremy” Landin||9|
|Jesse J. Alaniz||11|
|Melissa Cabello Havrda||3|
|Patrick Von Dohlen||3|